Sporting Goods Makers Relish Pickleball

Pickleball, created in the U.S. in 1965, is one of the fastest-growing participation sports in North America. Combining elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, it uses an oversized ping pong–like paddle and a wiffleball-like ball.

A group of specialist equipment makers and ecommerce companies has emerged to supply the pickleball needs of both professionals and fans, while the major generalist sporting goods companies and retailers (including Dick’s) also sell pickleball gear. Not surprisingly, licensed products are starting to appear as well:

  • The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the U.S. governing body for the sport, has launched a licensing program, with the first USAPA-logoed merchandise coming on the market in 2019. Franklin Sports, Wilson, and FILA are among the companies on board as licensees. Pickleball Central, which offers merchandise from a range of vendors—including specialists and global brands such as Wilson and Prince—operates the USAPA’s official store.
  • The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, sponsored by condo developer Minto Communities, has named lifestyle apparel maker Kitch Pickleball as its partner for official licensed products for fans; Kitch is also the licensee of the Las Vegas Pickleball Open. The U.S. Open also has a roster of official equipment partners including Paddletek (paddles), Gamma Sports (grips), Headsweats (headgear), Head Sports (footwear), and Franklin Sports (starter sets, gloves, and bags).
  • A number of colleges and universities host pickleball teams, and Gamma Sports makes officially licensed collegiate paddles for 11 institutions, including Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Florida, Florida State, Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Oregon State, Syracuse, and Washington State.
  • Margaritaville, which serves as the title sponsor of the USA Pickleball National Championships and a secondary sponsor of the U.S. Open, has forged an independent license with Head Sports for Margaritaville-branded pickleball paddles, bags, and t-shirts.
  • The International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA), whose mission is to maintain quality levels among pickleball teachers and coaches, has signed a number of official equipment partners, including Gamma Sports, Engage Pickleball, Manta World Sport, and Onix.

Pickleball has 3.1 million players in the U.S., representing a robust increase of approximately 12% over the previous year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2018 Pickleball Participant Report. About 85 new locations to play debut each month in the U.S., with the total reaching 6,885 sites at the end of 2018, according to the USAPA. The professional game is on the rise as well, with the number of participating pros growing each year and events broadcast on ESPN and CBS Sports Network.

The next issue of Raugust Communications’ monthly newsletter goes out next Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The Licensing Topic of the Month will take a look at the implications of the continued shrinking of major retail chains, while the Datapoint research spotlight will provide a glimpse of distribution strategies used to launch licensed product initiatives. If you are not already a subscriber to this free publication, you can sign up here.

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